Kia Picanto review
The Kia Picanto offers sharp looks, a seven-year warranty and good value, but it's fallen behind the class best
The Kia Picanto is a city car that trades on good value for money, low running costs and a market-leading seven-year warranty.
It has the choice of two small petrol engines, both of which offer fuel economy north of 60mpg providing you go for the manual gearbox. The smaller 1.0-litre unit has CO2 emissions from 99g/km, the larger one from 100g/km which means some versions of both are currently free to tax.
There’s plenty of standard equipment and the Picanto was facelifted in 2015 to bring it a little more up to date. However, good value and cheap to run though it is, the Kia has been around since 2011 and is now a little out of date compared to newer city cars.
Running costs are predictably low and the Picanto is cheap to buy in the first place, but competition in the city car segment is hotter than ever, with the likes of the Hyundai i10, Volkswagen up! and Skoda Citigo muscling in on the class lead.
The first generation Picanto was a huge success for Kia in the UK, not least because it was popular with buyers taking advantage of the government’s scrappage scheme at the time. This second-generation model is a big improvement on the old car.
The current Picanto was launched in 2011 and received a minor facelift in 2015 to compete against sharper-looking cars such as the Renault Twingo and the Toyota Aygo. It's an attractive enough car and Kia now offers a range of new colours, but some rivals are still more distinctive. Inside, it's by no means bad but it lacks the premium features or design flair that mark out the class best.
Cabin quality is good, however, as is the equipment list on most models. A new range-topping Picanto Quantum has recently been added to the line-up, helping the city car compete at the higher end of the segment. It comes with a lot of extra kit, including 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic air-conditioning, a smart key entry system with a starter button and an electric sliding and tilting sunroof.
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The two petrol engines on offer are quiet and efficient, and provide enough power to ensure the little Kia is nippy around town, even if it is underpowered on motorways. They start with a 65bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit, some version of which emit just 99g/km. There’s also an 84bhp 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine, which is only slightly more expensive to run and is the more flexible of the two.
Transmission options are a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic – the latter increases the Picanto’s running costs, so it’s best avoid unless you really need an auto. Trim levels rise from 1 through to 4, along with special edition Chilli, SR7 and VR7 versions.
Engines, performance and drive
The Kia Picanto is at its best when zipping around town, which isn’t surprising given that it’s a city car. The controls are light and easy and it’s simple to weave through crowded town traffic.
It’s quite comfortable, too. The suspension is soft, which means the Picanto handles bumps and potholes well. The trade-off is that this creates a bit of body roll that’s noticeable during corners.
Unfortunately the steering lets the Kia down out of town. It’s light enough to make the car simple to drive at low speeds, but it becomes unusually heavy when you speed up, so you end up with slow reactions to quick direction changes on A-roads and motorways.
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The five-speed manual gearbox is easy to use and far superior to the four-speed automatic. You’ll pay more for the auto up front and it has worse fuel economy and emissions, leading to further costs down the line. It just isn’t worth it unless you have to have one.
There is a choice of two petrol engines: a 65bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit and an 84bhp 1.25-litre. The smaller engine is available with 1, 1 Air, VR7 and 2 models. It’s the more economical of the two engines but it’s also a bit sluggish. You’ll find it struggles on faster roads and becomes noisy as a result.
The larger engine is available on 2, 3 and White spec cars. It’s still very capable around town but offers a bit more punch and is much better at coping with A-road motorway speeds – especially when it comes to overtaking. It isn’t much worse than the 1.0-litre when it comes to economy either, so it’s our choice of the two.
The 2015 facelift also introduced Kia’s ISG stop-start system to this engine, which improves economy further and gets emissions down to 100g/km.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
One of the main selling points of city cars is that they're cheap to run – and the Kia Picanto is no exception to this rule. The smaller of the two engines – the 68bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder – offers 67.3mpg and emits just 99g/km CO2.
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The larger 1.25-litre engine returns 60.1mpg and emits 109g/km CO2. The bigger engine is available with Kia’s ISG stop-start system though, which see the figures change to 65.7mpg and 100g/km CO2.
The 1.25-litre engine can be had with a four-speed automatic gearbox, but this is best avoided unless you must have an auto, as it increases running costs to as much as 50.4mpg and 130g/km, which means a higher tax bill.
Insurance starts at group two for the Picanto with the 1.0-litre petrol engine. They rise to group five for the 1.25-litre model and reach as high as six for the top-spec automatic models. Whichever model you choose, those numbers are very low, so insurance shouldn’t cost much.
It’s a similar story for rival city cars such as the Skoda Citigo and the Hyundai i10. They start in group one and remain below group five, which makes them marginally cheaper for insurance than the Kia, but it’s unlikely to make a huge difference, especially given the low cost of the car.
The Kia’s low initial cost and good value nature means it holds on to its used price fairly well. One thing to bear in mind is the fact that it’s very cheap to buy in the first place, so even cars that claim to have stronger residual value percentages will, in reality, lose more cash if they’re pricier than the Picanto in the first place.
Interior, design and technology
The first-generation Kia Picanto was bland to say the least, but the second generation livened things up. As with other Kia models launched in the past few years, it has a far more upmarket, sporty design.
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The standout feature is Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille surrounded by a pair of swept-back, oversized headlights. Even with the restyled bumpers of the 2015 facelift it looks a little dated compared with newer cars such as the Renault Twingo, though.
The interior is neatly designed but has changed even less than the exterior in the 2015 update. Kia claims there's a range of brighter fabrics, but our test car came with black and silver trim that looked almost identical to that of the 2011 car. It’s well laid out and easy on the eye, though.
The Picanto range is available with a wide choice of colours. Three-door models are available in Clear White, Bright Silver, Blaze Red and Galaxy Black. The five-door version can be had in any of those colours plus Lemongrass, Blue Breeze and Fuchsia Blush.
Trim levels on the three-door include: 1, VR7 and White, Quantum and Chilli. While five-door specifications include: 1, 1 Air, VR7, 2, 3 and 4. All models come with electric windows, a trip computer and MP3 connectivity, while Quantum adds the likes of climate control, automatic headlights and cruise control.
We'd suggest the 2 trim level with the bigger 1.25 petrol, which offers enough equipment and performance for most and represents decent value.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Sat-nav is only available with the three-door Chilli model, itself paired with the 1.25-litre engine. It’s a seven-inch touchscreen system but unless you want that particular model there’s no other option for a Picanto with sat-nav, so it may be worth considering an aftermarket system.
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Bluetooth, USB and aux ports come with the SR7 and 2 trim levels and everything above, which covers most of the range save for the entry-level 1 and 1 Air models. Top-end 3 and 4 models have an upgraded audio system, too.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The second-generation Picanto is more spacious on the inside than the previous model because it has a larger wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles). Five-door cars are obviously more practical than three-doors, as they have better access to the rear seats. Visibility is good and the Kia is very easy to manoeuvre.
There are plenty of storage compartments and cubbyholes dotted around the interior, plus a decent sized glovebox – mid-spec models get a twin cup holder underneath the centre console as well. Frustratingly, though, the steering wheel only adjusts for rake, not reach, so the driving position is rather inflexible.
The Picanto is 3,595mm long, 1,595mm wide and 1,480mm tall, so it’s a compact little car. It’s a little shorter than the Hyundai i10, though it’s marginally longer than the Skoda Citigo, so the Kia is about average for a city car.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
City cars are obviously not the last word in rear passenger space but the Picanto does well for its size. The seats are comfortable and supportive and there’s enough room for two adults to sit in the back without any complaints. Again, access is better with the five-door but that’s to be expected.
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The Picanto’s boot has 200 litres of space, which is pretty average for the class. It’s better than the Fiat 500 but some way behind newer rivals: the Volkswagen Group’s trio of city cars – the VW up!, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo – have 251 litres of capacity, while the class-leading Hyundai i10 has 252 litres of space.
The Kia comes with 60:40 split-folding rear seats as standard, though, which helps to improve practicality. Fold them flat and the amount of room in the boot increases to 605 litres. The boot has a wide opening too, which helps with squeezing in large objects.
Reliability and Safety
One of the areas in which the Picanto is starting to show its age is its safety rating, as it scored four stars in the Euro NCAP crash test. However, you shouldn’t let that rating put you off because the Picanto was marked down by Euro NCAP on the grounds that entry-level European models don’t come with electronic stability control as standard – but entry-level UK cars do.
The Picanto scored decent marks for adult occupant and child occupant protection, receiving 86 per cent for the former and 83 per cent for the latter. It also comes with a decent range of safety kit, including ABS, traction control, ISOFIX points for child seats and driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags.
There should be no reliability problems with the Picanto. The quality of Kia’s cars has really improved in recent years, and fit and finish is far superior to the slightly tacky models of old.
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Kia has also been performing well for reliability in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys, although it dropped from a strong seventh place in 2014 to a merely average 19th in the manufacturer section of our 2015 survey.
The Picanto itself finished 125th out of 200 cars in the 2015 survey. That sounds quite poor but it actually performed very well for reliability, for which it was ranked ninth overall. Owners didn’t rate it well for performance, handling and ride quality, which were the biggest factors in its overall position in the lower half of the table.
This is an area in which Kia is a market leader, as the firm offers a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty with its cars. No rival can touch it for length of time, but rival city cars such as the Hyundai i10 and the Toyota Aygo have five-year/unlimited mileage warranties, so that’s worth bearing in mind.
Kia has a pair of fixed-price servicing packages known as Care-3 and Care-3 Plus that cover the cost of the first three or the first five services. The firm doesn’t advertise the exact price as it varies depending on the model but it does claim to be “extremely competitive”. The Care-3 package also reduces the price of the car’s first MoT to £30 and there’s a monthly payment plan available.